24 November, 2003
Seal census number 5 was interrupted mid-day by an almost total solar eclipse. The moon was scheduled to cast its shadow as it passed between the sun and Earth starting at 11:08 this morning. The eclipse peak would be at 12:08. The last eclipse over Antarctica occurred in 1985, and the next will be in 2021. Since I couldn't guarantee that I would have the opportunity to see the eclipse 18 years from now, I set my watch for 11:00 so I wouldn't miss a moment of this event.
The weather forecast was predicting the arrival of a weather system from the Ross Sea sometime during the day. As you can guess, it showed up right on time, with hazy clouds crossing the sun around 10:45. I'd like to say that it was spectacular, but in all honesty it was just a few shades less than that. It was your basic subtle eclipse experience. It did get noticeably shadier during the hour-long eclipse. It was too dark to see well with my sunglasses on, and it seemed to be a bit darker than one would normally expect from a hazy cloud cover. It's easy to imagine that you are seeing an eclipse-induced shadow across the sun when you're privileged enough to be in Antarctica for an event that only occurs once every 18 years.
What were the seals doing today? 934 were out on the ice waiting to be counted. While most were tagged, there are still some untagged adults out there. When you consider that the database accumulated over the past 34 years has over 16,000 seals, the potential for seeing tagged seals is enormous. As of this point, we have seen a total of 1547 tagged individuals during our 5 censuses. We have 3 more censuses to complete over the next 2 weeks. It will be interesting to see how the total number of tagged animals seen changes by the end of those censuses.
Moon shadow across the earth
Too bad there were clouds
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